THE LITTLE PRINCESS
Dir: Walter Lang
In 2008, the British Daily Mail published an article headlined, 'Shirley Temple: the superstar who had her childhood destroyed by Hollywood'.
There is a computer program in the offices of tabloid newspapers that writes these stories.
For ex-child actors there are really only three options:
1. Spoiled by stardom, and entering teenage years, he/she descends into a horror of drugs and alcohol. (Illustrate with picture of teenager caught in the flash of a photographer's camera, looking angry). List rehab clinics the teenager may have visited. Find an out-of-work grip who will talk about the teenager turning up late on the set of their last film. Then recycle old stories of other child-stars who have 'gone bad' as examples.
2. From stardom to obscurity. Once one of the biggest child stars in (country), he/she found the parts drying up when he/she became a gawky teenager. Their last two films were box-office flops, and an attempt to revive his/her career on the stage met with poor reviews. Eventually, the phone stopped ringing, and he/she retired to a life of obscurity as a nuclear scientist/university professor/record producer.
3. After a course of therapy, the ex-child star has worked out that all their problems can be blamed on their hideous life as a child actor. The money, the travel, the excitement 'stole away their childhood'. Really, deep down, they just wanted to be kicking a football around with their friends in their suburban neighbourhood, but their parents/agent/manager/studio producer made them attend auditions / rehearse / tour the country until their feet bled / they broke down in tears / they turned to drugs / they begged to go home to see their family for their birthday.
Unfortunately for the press, Shirley Temple's story did not fit any of these three scenarios.
She did not 'go bad' (unless you include a stint as ambassador to Ghana for Nixon).
Whilst her first marriage lasted only four years, her second marriage lasted fifty-five years, cut short only by the death of her husband.
She was not forced into the acting profession. Of her mother, she said 'I was absolutely bathed in love'.
The Daily Mail article makes mention of the fact that in the studio where she shot her first films, there was a black box where children were sent if they misbehaved. There was only a block of ice on which to sit to 'cool off'.
But, Shirley wrote in her memoir, “So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche. Its lesson of life, however, was profound and unforgettable. Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble.”
Her father supported her as well, at one point spending $25 to buy out her contract, feeling that she was being overworked.
At the age of twelve, when her contract with Fox came to an end, Shirley attended Westlake School for girls, and claims to have been very happy there.
Shirley did not leave show-business entirely. In the late fifties, she was the host of a television series where she read fairy tales to children.
When she was appointed ambassador to Ghana in 1974, there were protests from other career diplomats, but it was widely agreed that her performance in the post was exemplary.
She was president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, raising substantial contributions.
When she underwent a mastectomy as treatment for breast cancer, she was one of the first female celebrities to talk publicly about it, and was credited with bringing confidence and hope to many.
In 1988, her husband gave an interview in which he said,
“Over 38 years I have participated in her life 24 hours a day through thick and thin, traumatic situations, exultant situations, and I feel she has only one personality. She would be catastrophic for the psychiatric profession. You can wake her up in the middle of the night and she has the same personality everybody knows. What everybody has seen for 60 years is the bedrock.”
Shirley Temple must have made life hard for tabloid reporters, her life positively refusing to fit into the templates that they applied to ex-child actors.
But, of course, we should not feel too sorry for them.
For, it is oh so easy for them to ignore all the achievements of a remarkable career, the honour of having lived a good, responsible, and valuable life, the fine example she set not only to those in the spotlight, but to all.
...and then they can simply headline their article,
'Shirley Temple: the superstar who had her childhood destroyed by Hollywood'.